Recently, I taught in a leadership program that asked participants to give presentations on key lessons from their past. One of the participants, Josh, asked if I would be willing to give him feedback afterward, and I agreed. Josh spoke for about 30 minutes, and I had five pages of thoughts and questions for him to consider.

Another participant who had spoken earlier overheard the conversation between Josh and me and asked if I had any feedback for him. “I’m sorry; I wasn’t paying close attention to you,” I said. Therein lies one of the fundamental issues with obtaining feedback: People need to know before watching you perform. Afterward, unless you made a glaring mistake, people will not have much to share with you.

I’m committed to three fundamental ideas in development:

  • You and I are better when we are being watched.
  • Asking people you respect to watch you and provide feedback is priceless.
  • You need to always be working on something (have a game within the game).

Whenever possible, I ask Cindy, my wife, to sit in when I lead workshops or give presentations. If she can’t attend, I often audio record the presentation so I don’t miss out on what I might learn from the experience. I like having Cindy travel with me, but I also love having her watch me lead. Why? Because I’m better if she is watching.

She can remind me of things I’ve worked on in the past but perhaps haven’t yet fully integrated into my approach, such as:

  • Go slowly; take your time.
  • Take care of people, especially each person who speaks.
  • Tell your stories as though you were telling them for the first time.

Think about the situations in which you’re better when you’re being watched. You do your Pilates exercises more correctly when the personal trainer is watching. You practice your golf swing more deliberately when you’re taking a lesson. You may even interact with your grandchildren more thoughtfully when their eagle-eyed parents are watching!

Why is this true? It’s simple. We become intentional and aware of what we are doing when we know we are being watched with a critical eye. We can become sloppy or take shortcuts or forget what is important in almost anything we do in life. Having someone watch us changes our awareness and performance – often dramatically.

When I ask Cindy to watch me, I tell her what I intend to work on in the workshop – what my game within the game is. Maybe it’s repeating people’s questions for the group. Maybe it’s using people names and referring to their comments and questions. Maybe it is deliberately checking in to see if people are getting value. The point is, I give Cindy something to watch for – something I’m particularly interested in getting feedback about. That way, I ensure that the feedback I receive will be relevant to my continued development.

Did you notice anything else, no matter how small?

Once she’s given me feedback, I’ll ask Cindy one final question: “Did you see anything at all as you were watching that made you think, ‘Hmmm?’” The answer – the things she noticed that I did or didn’t do, say or didn’t say – is often fascinating.

Reflection is the key to maximizing value from our experiences. Build in time each day for reflection; 45 minutes will give you 80 percent of the value. Purposely asking for and receiving feedback from someone will give you access to information you might miss on your own.

When you ask someone to give you feedback, follow these guidelines:

  • Choose someone whom you respect both as a person and for his or her ability to provide useful feedback about what you are doing. Someone who has mastered leading meetings, for example, will notice more as you lead a meeting than someone who has not.
  • Tell the person what you are working on and what you would like him or her to look for specifically.
  • Ask the person to note anything at all that occurs to them as they observe you.
  • When you debrief, listen to every piece of feedback without justifying or explaining why you did or didn’t do something. Just hear it. Ask questions for clarity, if needed. Then, say thank you.

Improving in life requires getting in-the-moment feedback about our performance. We take lessons specifically to receive feedback. We ask our friends to watch our golf swing. We ask colleagues to watch how we lead meetings or make presentations. When we pay for a lesson or ask for feedback, we are open to the insights that others can offer. Most of the time, however, we are simply not that open to what others might suggest. So, we have this dilemma: Learning requires correction, and we are not really that open to it.

The payout for development can be huge. Perhaps it’s time to ask for more feedback.